Picture the scene:
Your daughter is 13 years old. You are at a family wedding where there are countless uncles, aunts, cousins, family friends and strangers. Some you are all familiar with, some you have only just met. And the rest are somewhere in between.
You are leaving the wedding. Before you go, many of these adults gather in a circle around your daughter and you tell her to give them all a kiss and a cuddle. She looks at you, unsure. You actively encourage her to kiss and embrace them all with phrases like “come on, don’t be rude,” and one of your fifty year-old uncles says “you’re making me feel sad because you wont give me a kiss,” with a mock crying face.
Sound uncomfortable? Creepy and sinister even?
And yet, take ten years off, making her 3 years old and it suddenly sounds alarmingly familiar. I see it happening a lot.
Which is why I’m teaching my children that it’s ok to say no.
Because whilst it doesn’t make us so uncomfortable when our children are four, I don’t want my 14 year old son feeling obliged to hug and kiss just anyone, simply because he’s never been empowered enough to make his own decisions for his own body.
We live in a world where technology is progressing at a staggering rate. Where, by the time our children leave primary school, there are countless ways that people can contact them in just a few clicks of a keyboard or taps of a smart phone. Where the NSPCC developed the ‘Underwear Rules’ to help keep children safe, and books along a similar theme such as ‘My Underpants Rules’ by Kate and Rod Power have been written to help make children aware of when personal contact doesn’t feel right.
And yet, when they are trying to communicate, at a young age, that they don’t want to engage in personal contact (by running off, cuddling into Mummy or hiding behind Daddy), so many people dismiss it and encourage it anyway.
I, of course, model kisses and cuddles with people I am comfortable with. I model that it’s fine to hug people when we feel safe with them. I model that some days I enjoy lots of hugs and other days I prefer less.
And it is the same for my children. They are little versions of adults; so they have the same basic rights as adults. They have the right to decide who can touch them and when. Just as we do.
I know there will be people reading this who say “but I was always encouraged when I was younger and it never did me any harm.”
And it probably didn’t. But you probably didn’t grow up in a world where the average age for getting your own phone is now 11 years old, with almost 1 in 5 children getting their own phone at the age of 5 years old.
Even if we assume that those phones are app-free (highly unlikely), these children now have a unique way of people contacting them, effectively in secret.
And even if the advances in technology were not as prevalent, it boils down to this:
I respect my children enough to teach them that their body is their property and that other people should not tell them what to do with it.
It’s OK to say no.
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